Blake Christian
What public accountants should focus on this summer

Spending time on these key areas will help firms make the most out of the second half of the year.

June 2, 2014
by Blake Christian, CPA

With busy season well behind us, now is an excellent time to evaluate your successes and failures and update your business plan for the remainder of the year.

It is easy to become complacent this time of year after the rigors of busy season. While some vacation or a scaled-back work schedule may be in order, firms run the risk of losing momentum if they aren’t careful. To build discipline, firm leadership should reserve at least 30 minutes per day to focus on administration, planning, and practice development or marketing.

Here are suggestions to help you make the most out of the remainder of 2014:

  1. Benchmark tax return processes: While it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, evaluate how many timely returns you filed versus the number of extensions and analyze how this percentage compared with prior years. Also evaluate the time needed to complete projects in 2014 compared with 2013, as well as the relative fees that you charged (normalized for hourly rate or fixed fee increases from year-to-year). Finally, ask the administrative and professional staff to identify the top challenges they encountered and solicit their suggestions for streamlining tax return preparation.
  2. Billings and collections: If your firm does not submit the client invoice at the time of delivering the return(s), you should get your invoices out as quickly as possible while your hard work is fresh in clients’ minds. You will also be in a better position to detail any overages or special projects that popped up during the return or financial statement preparation.
  3. Evaluate expanded client services: Managers should be assigned primary responsibility for following up with business and larger individual clients to determine other client needs and services the firm can deliver. Check out these suggested questions to get the conversation started with your clients and prospects.
  4. Identify common technical and operating issues faced by clients: Those client discussions will help you identify issues that your clients are trying to address. Examples could be complying with new federal and state regulations or evaluating opportunities to increase revenue and profitability. By providing the client with a rough estimate of the potential tax cost or savings associated with each issue—or, conversely, the penalties and interest for ignoring the issue—you should be well-positioned to land new projects.
  5. Network with other advisers: Now is an excellent time to arrange meetings with other advisers, whether CPAs with different specialties or attorneys who work in a related field, to discuss common issues and referral opportunities.
  6. Staff evaluations: High-performing staff and managers should be praised for their hard work as soon as possible after busy season—otherwise, they may feel underappreciated. Likewise, underperformers should be counseled early, and personnel files documented, so that a plan for improvement can be developed.
  7. Training and development: The last few months likely revealed some deficiencies in your staff and managers’ technical or soft-skills capabilities. Partners also may have detected a need for improved niche practice training or general business training. Scheduling training and related CPE hours during the next few months will make effective use of the slightly slower summer period. Also, ask for employees’ input regarding areas in which they would like more training. 
  8. Mergers and acquisitions: Succession planning is a hot issue these days thanks to the impending retirement of the Baby Boom generation. The less busy summer months may be a good time for leaders to evaluate long-term succession strategy. They should start by considering the potential impact of merger opportunities to senior and junior partners and other employees within the firm. The impact on clients also should be considered, including potential conflicts and geographic synergies, as well as economies of scale.
  9. Firm and personal branding: Your firm’s partners and managers have insights into many aspects of business and the economy. This expertise may offer opportunities for you to flex your knowledge with the press, trade organizations, referral sources, and prospects. This is also an excellent time to line up speaking engagements, firm seminars, college visits, etc.
  10. Community service: With less time-sensitive deadlines, your staff may be able to schedule time to participate in a variety of community service projects in your firm’s region(s). These projects help the community, build firm camaraderie, and improve both employee satisfaction and the firm’s profile within the community.
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Blake Christian, CPA, MBT, is a tax partner in the Long Beach, Calif., office of CPA firm HCVT LLP.